Shutout streak ends versus Merrimack, but Gophers women keep winning in 2023
An outburst of four goals in 77 seconds allowed the Minnesota Gophers to shake off the post-holiday rust and pull away from Merrimack in a lopsided third period on Friday.
MINNEAPOLIS – If the Minnesota Gophers made a resolution for 2023, at first glance it appears to be something along the lines of, “keep doing what we’ve been doing, but if we allow a goal now and then, it’s acceptable.”
To open the new year, the Gophers used near-constant offensive pressure and stellar — if not perfect — goaltending to blow past Merrimack 9-2 on Friday in their East/West Showcase opener.
Up by a pair in the third period, they scored four times in 77 seconds to blow the game open, improving to 15-3-2 overall.
As is normal for the first game back following a long break, there was rust to shake off in the opening 20 minutes.
“I think in the first period we were a little shaky and we made some mistakes that we normally wouldn’t make,” said star forward Taylor Heise, who had her second consecutive three-goal game. “We came back better in the third. After the second period people were like, ‘OK, I’m feeling it now, I can get back my groove and stuff.’ I was happy with the way we ended it.”
The bad news for the Gophers is that for the first time in more than four full games, starting goalie Skylar Vetter allowed a goal. The good news is that if you put a touchdown-plus on the board, nobody pays much heed to those two that the visitors got.
“The first period was a little sloppy, first period in a long time,” said Gophers coach Brad Frost. His team had not played since a 9-0 win over St. Cloud State on December 10. “Obviously got better as the game went on.”
Indeed, Katie Kaufman and Alexa Pongo got pucks past Vetter, who was named the national goalie of the month for December. But it was not near enough for Merrimack (7-14-1) which got 22 saves from starting goalie Emma Gorski — several of them spectacular — before she was pulled following the Gophers’ late-game goal outburst.
“In the first period in particular, two back door tap-ins and she made great saves on (Grace Zumwinkle) and (Abbey Murphy),” Frost said in praise of Gorski, who gave way to Calli Hogarth in the third. “And then she made some really big saves there in the second period. I think the volume of everything kind of wore her out.”
While facing only 16 shots in the game, Vetter was busy right from the start. The Warriors’ first shot on goal was a breakaway that the Gophers goalie thwarted. When Kaufman scored in the second period, it snapped a 261:30 shutout streak, the third-longest in program history. For good measure, Vetter chipped in with an assist on the game’s final goal, completing the hat trick for Heise, who was named the national player of the month for December.
“It’s hard in some of these games where you’re not getting a ton of action and all of a sudden you get a ripper from the point that hits you in the shoulder and you’re trying to figure out where it is,” Frost said of Vetter, who is in her second year of college hockey after playing high school boys hockey for Lakeville North . “I thought she played really well.”
Minnesota hosts New Hampshire on Saturday in Minneapolis.
Minnesota 9, Merrimack 2
First period — 1. MN, Nelli Laitinen 3 (Audrey Wethington, Sadie Lindsay), 6:46. Penalties — Abbey Murphy, MN (roughing), 9:18; Hannah Corneliusen, MC (tripping), 18:38.
Second period — 2. MN, Taylor Heise 14 (Abigail Boreen, Emily Oden), 3:53. 3. MN, Boreen 13 (Laitinen, Madeline Wethington), 10:25, (PP). 4. MC, Katie Kaufman 8 (Payten Evans, Sam Lessick), 15:21, (PP). 10. MN, Hemp 9 (Josefin Bouveng), 15:14. Penalties — Emily Oosterveld, MC (hooking), 9:44; Oden, MN (hooking), 13:42.
Third period — 5. MN, Catie Skaja 6 (Murphy, Heise), 2:39, (PP). 6. MN, Heise 15 (Allie Franco), 3:03. 7. MN, Grace Zumwinkle 14 (Ella Huber), 3:32. 8. MN, Madison Kaiser 4 (Laitinen, Peyton Hemp), 3:56. 9. MC, Alexa Pongo 9 (Lessick, Teghan Inglis), 10:48. 11. MN, Heise 16 (Skaja, Skylar Vetter), 18:58. Penalties — Corneliusen, MC (interference), 2:20; Grace Karunakar, MC (tripping), 12:30.
Shots on goal — MN 12-12-18—42, MC 5-6-5—16. Goalies — Skylar Vetter, MN (16 shots-14 saves); Emma Gorski, MC (29-22); Calli Hogarth, MC (13-11). Power plays — MN 2-of-4, MC 1-of-2. Referees — Mike Kaehler, Chris Brinkley. Linesmen — Brian Jensen, Sam Jerome. Att. — 2,207.